Tooele County is growing and we feel the impacts associated with this growth everyday. There are more cars driving on the roads, people shopping at the stores, and children attending school. We are the 7th fastest-growing county in the entire country and are geographically larger than three U.S. states. Our population is projected to more than double by 2065, growing at a rate of 112 percent to nearly 135,000 residents over the next 50 years.
Why are we growing so quickly? People are drawn to Tooele County because we simultaneously enjoy the benefits associated with a rural lifestyle and the convenience of living close to the region’s more urbanized areas. While we provide affordable living and an excellent quality of life, 75.6 percent of our adult age population commute to/from the Salt Lake Valley for work. These commute patterns, coupled with our increasing population, has strained our transportation system.
For example, when a crash occurs on Interstate 80, traffic backs up for miles. This leaves drivers stranded, reduces productivity, and robs our residents of precious time with family and friends. While the Mid-Valley Highway project and other road projects are welcomed investments in the community, we recognize the need to provide choices for how people get around.
That is why transit must be part of the equation.
More people riding the bus, taking the train, or carpooling means fewer cars on the road. This reduces congestion and the vehicle emissions that contribute to our poor air quality. Transit corridors that provide frequent service can facilitate much-needed economic development here at home and provide places where people can live, work, and play more closely together. In addition, transit can support underserved populations like the elderly and low-income who may be unable to drive or afford a car.
As local elected officials, we understand that our role is to provide residents with vital services and to create fair and equitable rules that allow the private sector to flourish. We see that the market demands of Baby Boomers and Millennials are trending increasingly toward living in communities served by transit. That’s what makes our appointment to the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) Board so important.
In the 2018 Utah Legislative Session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 136, Transportation Governance Amendments and Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law. For the first time ever, the state will be funding transit capital projects through the newly created Transit Transportation Investment Fund (TTIF). Another provision in SB 136 changed the governance structure of the Utah Transit Authority from a 16-member, part-time board to a 3-member, full-time board. The law requires Utah County to consult with Tooele County on the board nominations. The governor appoints one individual from our list of nominees and the Senate confirms them.
SB 136 requires us to nominate at least two candidates. We received 10 applications and of those 10, only two came to meet with us during the application process. One of those candidates easily rose to the top. This individual understands our transportation priorities, had substantive recommendations, and possesses the extensive experience and expertise needed to hit the ground running on day one. We were unanimous in our support.
Unfortunately, our preferred candidate was not selected by the Utah County Commissioners. Last week, the governor rejected both of the nominees forwarded by Utah County. We’re grateful that he agreed with us — they are not the best to represent our counties’ best interests with respect to UTA’s future. We have renewed hope that we can work collaboratively with our fellow commissioners on the selection of future nominees. The future of our respective counties depends on it — and the law requires it.
Shawn Milne is a Tooele County Commissioner and a resident of Tooele City.